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New DNA testing instrument aims to help solve crimes

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

What would normally take days or even weeks to analyze DNA crime data is now down to 90 minutes, thanks to new technology that the Arizona Department of Public Safety is using to find investigative leads in a case.

"It's a much quicker process, and it gets an investigator an answer or a lead very very quickly within a couple of hours," said DPS Crime Laboratory Superintendent Vince Figarelli.

The DPS crime lab in Phoenix is doing so using an instrument called the Rapid Hit 200.

What looks like a copy machine is actually a testing instrument that matches DNA samples with a database of approximately 300,000 arrestee and convicted offender profiles, according to Figarelli.
 
"If an officer has a sample from a crime scene that they think belongs to a suspect, they can run that sample, get the DNA profile, search it against the arrestee database and hopefully identifying the perpetrator," Figarelli said.

But the process does not come cheap. Each instrument costs about $270,000 a piece and the kits that can analyze five samples at a time cost $1,750 a pop, all paid for by the DPS general fund.

As for how it works, blood or saliva samples are placed into the vessels within the kit.

"They migrate through with some liquid and go through some pumps and vacuums into a syringe port that's then injected into the instrument," said DPS technical leader Kathy Press.

It's an entire laboratory, condensed into one machine. Compare it to the agency's traditional way of analyzing DNA at the lab upstairs, where DNA samples go through several processes before identification.
 
"It could take anywhere from a rush day, a couple days, to four to six weeks to generate a DNA report," Press said.

The lab still specializes in analyzing mixed DNA samples that have a limited amount of DNA on them, for example, evidence gleaned from sexual assault cases. But what the rapid DNA instrument does best is match "single source" samples derived from one person.
 
"Items that have a lot of blood or a lot of saliva present; half of that sample can be used in the Rapid Hit to generate some kind of name or affiliation with another crime," Press said.

Crimes like burglaries, where a crook may leave behind some blood on a broken window. There is more than enough DNA in that blood sample for analysis and a possible match among a backlog of thousands of property crime profiles already stored in the database.

"If some of these could be done on the Rapid Hit 200, then you could actually prevent crimes from recurring because most burglaries are repetitive offenders," Figarelli said.

Figarelli said an instrument expects to arrive at DPS' Tucson office in the next few months. Detectives from law enforcement agencies in Southern Arizona will be invited for rapid DNA testing training this summer, Figarelli said.

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